Kinjo Kiema: How GW can stand up for third-world workers

Have you ever thought about the conditions under which your “GW Colonials” sweatshirt could have been made?

Chances are, you haven’t. But you should know that there’s a possibility your sweatshirt was made in a factory in Bangladesh that is structurally unsound and lacks fire safety measures. Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of clothes in the world, and the people that these factories employ work in extremely dangerous conditions for very little pay.

In the past year, three huge factories have collapsed in Bangladesh. Recently, the deadliest incident in the garment industry’s history killed more than 1,100 people.

If another factory collapsed, I wouldn’t want clothing with the GW logo to be found among dead bodies in the rubble.

Exploitation of workers in third-world countries making products for Western consumers certainly is not uncommon, nor is it a problem specific to GW. It’s such a huge issue that it might seem like there’s nothing we can do about it.

But this isn’t true. Universities across the country, like Georgetown, Cornell and Penn State, have begun signing the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Safety, a legally binding contract that requires companies to make sure factories pass fire and building safety inspections.

Now, student activists in organizations like the Progressive Student Union are getting involved, calling on GW to sign its own contract.

This is a cause worth getting loud about. GW should change its policy to ensure that any present and future GW apparel licensee would promise to make sure their building conditions are safe.

GW contracts with several companies to make our apparel. A few of them, like Top of the World apparel, have already signed the accord. Some others, like Outerstuff Apparel, which sells items like GW sleepwear, have not.

College merchandise is huge business in the U.S., with royalties of about $4.6 billion a year. As more GW sports teams like basketball enjoy on-court success, apparel sales will continue to rise and bring money to the University. We should ensure that this isn’t at the expense of the lives and safety of people in another country.

Even if it did slightly increase the price of a GW t-shirt, those few dollars would help in the fight for worker safety in Bangladesh. People shouldn’t be risking their lives to make you those comfy GW-branded sweatpants.

If GW changes its policy and requires any company that makes GW apparel to sign this accord, companies will be pressured to ensure that factories are structurally sound and have basic protections like fire escapes for workers.

Large schools like GW, which contribute to whether or not these companies stay in business, have a prerogative to act.

Kinjo Kiema, a freshman majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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